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Hall chamber optimistic about areas future
Re-cess Southern Gastro-Pub server Nicholas McNabb pours drinks for customers Thursday in Gainesville. The restaurant, which opened late last year, is one of the newest businesses in downtown Gainesvil - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Despite the rough economic climate and climbing unemployment numbers, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce maintains that Hall County is still a hospitable environment for all types of businesses.

Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said 2009 was a crucial year for large industries.

“We have had quite a few consolidations to Gainesville,” Evans said. “A lot of our companies that are going through that process are closing or downsizing another part of the company and may be relocating some business here ... While we might want to celebrate that, within the company that’s often kind of difficult.”

An example of a business consolidation that brought more business to Hall County in 2009 is Kubota, a tractor manufacturer.

“They acquired a half-million-square-foot facility,” Evans said. “It’s the largest campus Kubota has outside Japan.”

Evans said Hall County is an attractive site for large industrial businesses. The chamber will be announcing next week a new international business that has chosen to locate in the county.

“We’ve got really skilled people to work in the operations and manufacturing environment, and we also have a tremendous base of talent that can fill out the headquarters positions for a firm — the CEO, CFO, COO — all those positions you need to run North American operations, that talent is here,” Evans said.

Small businesses have had their share of troubles but have also survived the last year.

“The challenges are pretty clear. Credit remains a challenge for small businesses and small business owners,” Evans said. “We hope to see the credit markets continue to ease up.”

Christopher Richardson, owner of Re-cess Southern Gastro-pub on the square, opened his business in October 2009 in the midst of the recession.

“The recession is a great opportunity if you have money and confidence in your business model,” Richardson said.

Richardson was able to start his business without loans because he had recently sold a restaurant he owned in Roswell.

“The banks are not lending,” he said.

He said one thing that’s helped his restaurant survive and compete with larger chains is working with other small businesses to provide a unique offering. He said he buys as many of his supplies, like meats and vegetables, from local vendors as possible.

“It’s small businesses networking together and helping to drive each other’s products,” he said.

Evans said the mix of small and big businesses in a variety of areas has also helped Hall County’s economy stay afloat.

He said food processing and health care were successful over the last year, while automobile-related industries took a hit.

“We’ve got a very diverse industry base and that’s really healthy for our community. You want to diversify your business and your industry across many different sectors; so when one area is hurting you have other areas that are doing well,” Evans said.

The Georgia Department of Labor reported Thursday that the unemployment rate in the metro Gainesville area rose a tenth of a percentage point to 9 percent in December.

The rate was up from a revised 8.9 percent in November. The number of unemployed workers in the Hall County area increased by 79, from 8,013 in November to 8,092 in December.

In December 2008, there were 6,522 jobless workers in the Gainesville area, when the jobless rate was 7 percent. The number of payroll jobs in metro Gainesville in December 2009 was 73,900, a loss of 3,300, or 4.3 percent, from 77,200 in December 2008.

Statewide, the number of payroll jobs in December 2009 was 3,859,800, a decrease of 175,000, or 4.3 percent, from 4,034,800 in 2008. The state’s jobless rate was 10.3 percent in December.

The jobless rate was at 9.4 percent in the Georgia Mountains region, 9.8 percent in Northeast Georgia, 7.2 percent in the Athens area and 10.1 in metro Atlanta.

The national adjusted unemployment rate is 10 percent. For 25 of the last 26 months, Georgia’s unemployment rate has exceeded the national unemployment rate. Since the economic recession began in December 2007, Georgia’s work force has shrunk by 121,257, or 2.5 percent, from 4,823,467 to 4,702,210.

“Gainesville-Hall County is still below the regional, state and national unemployment levels but we still have what we consider high unemployment, and we’d love to see the job growth continue in 2010,” Evans said. “We feel very optimistic we’re through the worst of it.”